Sunday, March 14, 2010

Content, Context, and even Network

Working in any large marketing organization can be sometimes a bit confusing and disorienting. I like to explain to industry newcomers that any marketer in a large organization moves in two different dominant spheres: Content and Context. Content is the creation of something valuable, either in the strategic, creative, analytical or technical space whereas Context is the ability to move this creation through the internal machinery of any marketing organization, either on the client or the service side. Content is about the differentiating creation of something that will help achieve the marketer’s goal, content resides in the political sphere that can decide the success or failure of a content initiative or project.

There is definitely a parallel to Max Weber’s differentiation of three types of authority: Institutional authority and power (e.g. someone is the CMO or leader of a particular organization, formally announced and empowered), technical power (e.g. superior knowledge of a particular area that is critical for an organization), and charismatic power (e.g. the influence of someone by his or her pure personality and presence in a particular situation). Max Weber’s three different authority and power spheres are different than “Content” and “Context” but they can be useful in understanding certain organizational situations, too.

Back to the “Content” and “Context” dichotomy: It seems to me that almost each marketing personality has either a stronger tendency to be content or a context person. It’s rare to see that someone has a balanced portfolio of talents and skills across both domains. And in sum any successful marketing organization needs a healthy balance between experts and leaders in both spaces.

But over the last years I have noticed a new element that needs to be included in the understanding of any marketing organization: The Network, the incessant, never ending, and (mostly) purposeless build out of virtual connections between the marketer and “readers” or “followers”. At first glance it seems to be the same as the context sphere but it’s fundamentally different. Whereas context refers to the skill of analyzing, understanding, and acting strategically within an organization, the network component refers to the reach and frequency that someone is “connecting” with other human beings without ever truly engaging with them. It could be called the Paris Hilton or Aston Kutcher effect. Without having ever created anything meaningful or interesting they both became masters of the Network game which has morphed into a non-purpose driven sphere, where the number of paparazzi followers, mentioning in gossip publications, or the numbers of Twitter followers have become the leading indicator of someone’s network power. They don’t really care about the context or content sphere, since they don’t want to achieve anything beyond fame (=powerful network position) as a value by itself.

Now, marketers, and quite often brands, try to enter this “Network” game without generating interesting and relevant content but by creating as many networkconnections as possible. I don’t’ mind the emergence of this network component but it seems to devaluate the content focus that most marketers should have. It’s more important to create something relevant than having a large network power that is impressive in its vastness but meaningless.

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